In a bid to protect domestic producers, the Japanese government is considering imposing import restrictions on fresh shiitake mushrooms, leeks and bulrushes, traditionally used to weave tatami mats.

Yoshio Yatsu, minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries revealed yesterday (19 December) that the government will make its decision on 27 April 2001, and will accept evidence and responses from those concerned by the restrictions until 22 March.

Consumer groups are likely to criticise the move but Yatsu is confident that it "will win the support of consumers once they realize that the restrictions will save domestic producers from being driven out of business."

While prices have dropped by double digits, imports have increased dramatically. During the April-September period, imports of leek increased 80% on last year and throughout the course of 2000, shiitake mushrooms imports have increased by 60%. Over 90% of the imports derive from China.

If the restrictions go ahead, this will be the first time Japan has used its powers, as stipulated by the World Trade Organisation, to protect domestic farmers.